The world is real. Period. It is filled with anguish, with torment, with grief, with misery. But it is real. It is absurd, it is pointless, it is meaningless. But it is real. It is ugly, but it is real.
Art on the other hand is beautiful, exquisite, and lovely. But it is unreal. It is striking, it is stunning, it is awe-inspiring and breath-taking. But it is unreal.
This is precisely how Sartre distinguishes between the world and a piece of art, between the real and the unreal, between a brute fact and an imaginary realm which acts as an escape from the brute fact. In a world so bleak, there is no scope to find the alluring, the divine, the beautiful. Hence for Sartre “..the real is never beautiful. Beauty is a value applicable only to the imaginary and which means the negation of the world in its essential structure.”
Every piece of art is unreal. It is imaginatively intended by a sympathetic audience. All that the artist is responsible for is the creation of a material analogue. The paint, the canvas, the plot of a novel, the body of the actor, the set of notes in a symphony. This becomes a piece of art only when the audience imaginatively intends it. A piece of art is hence for Sartre is always unreal.
This unreality which is beautiful, acts as an escape from the world. The escape is so welcome that no matter how bad a play, how bad a symphony is, one does not want it to end. One does not want to return back to reality. Coming into contact with reality is all that it takes to arouse in us a sense of nauseating disgust. A disgust which characterises the consciousness of reality. This in short is Sartre’s existentialist theory of the world and of art.
Sartre’s views seem extreme and his picture of the world depressing with no escape routes whatsoever (apart from art that is), and it remains to be seen how far can his theory be held to be true.
The world can be said to be divided into two kinds of people – the artist and the audience. And it is true that art does provide an escape for both. If the artist finds his escape while creating a masterpiece the audience too forgets its tensions for a moment, the moment in which it becomes totally engrossed in the artist’s brilliance.